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Wade Huntley aboard the USS Nimitz - photo courtesy of Wade Huntley
Wade Huntley aboard the USS Nimitz - photo courtesy of Wade Huntley

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 4 | Apr. 3, 2008

Wade Huntley: On Deck for Disarmanent

By Lorraine Chan

Last month, UBC disarmament scholar Wade Huntley spent six days aboard the USS Nimitz, a U.S. military aircraft carrier then deployed near Okinawa, Japan.

The admiral invited him onto the flag bridge where he watched fighter jets being launched from the ship’s deck. But more important, Huntley was able to introduce broader thinking to his listeners.

At the request of the U.S. Navy’s Regional Security Education Program, Huntley gave briefings to about 200 people, among them the strike group’s admiral, commanders, jet pilots and non-commissioned officers.

He spoke to them on matters such as global nuclear proliferation, North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, U.S relations with Japan and South Korea, and the repercussions of military intervention in East Asia.

“My job is to ask decision makers how they’re framing their issues so they can consider alternatives and long-term consequences,” says Huntley, Director of the Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues.

The Simons Centre explores new possible legal and political frameworks, while producing analysis and insights on military threats and global governance. It is the only university-based centre for research, education and advocacy on disarmament and global security, says Huntley.

He agrees that it was at times surreal to raise these issues with the very people who would be carrying out any military actions against North Korea. But to their credit, he says, many were having heated debates about the U.S. presence in Iraq, with as many skeptics as supporters.

Huntley stressed for his audiences the “bedeviling challenges” inherent when asking other nations to give up their nuclear ambitions.

“We have to engage in a way that promotes strengthening the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty while reducing the attraction of nuclear weapons.”

A case in point is the need for different approaches for North Korea and Iran, he says. “In the West we view them as similar problems, as rogue nations, but they are very different countries, and a policy that works in one case might not in the other.”

Paradoxically, says Huntley, Kim Jong-Il could cut a deal tomorrow, trading economic aid and political concessions in return for not developing nuclear weapons. However, he says, “It’s a closed, xenophobic dictatorship and what he says goes.”

Iran by comparison is a more open, vibrant country, he says, where political factions compete and citizens enjoy access to the Internet, television and satellite. “However, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has less freedom to cut a deal because of competing political factions.”

The disarmament debate caught Huntley’s attention at an early age. He grew up in Vallejo, a town 40 kilometres north of San Francisco that sprung up in the shadow of the now-defunct Mare Island Naval Shipyards -- once the largest on the West Coast. Huntley’s father, an electrical engineer, worked there maintaining the sub sonar systems on nuclear submarines.

“Our backyard faced a cow pasture and beyond that I could see the bridge leading to the shipyards,” recalls Huntley.

It dawned on him one day while looking out the window that if war erupted, Mare Island would be a prime target for Soviet nuclear missiles. “And that fireball would have rolled across the pasture right into my bedroom window,” says Huntley.

The proximity of deadly weapons, along with the “Star Wars” defense plans of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, spurred Huntley to begin reading up on the nuclear threat -- at a time, he observes wryly, when most of his friends “were more focused on getting dates with girls or playing baseball.”

Huntley worries that we still live in a world where, “the strong do what they may and the weak do what they must.” But leavening his realism is a stronger faith, he says, that an emerging “pan-human ethical standard” is taking form, where nations will gradually evolve away from the rule of power toward the rule of principle.

Huntley says he envisions a day when children will be able to grow up without fear of being blown up -- by either the largest or the smallest of the world’s weapons. In such a framework, global governance will have the means to protect human rights, viewing human security from the perspective of the individual instead of the state.

“I can imagine a world where the rule of principle has more sway, in which peace means much more than just stable nuclear deterrence.”

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Last reviewed 07-Apr-2008

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